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Information as the latest site of conflict in the ongoing contests about access to and sharing the benefits from exploiting genetic resources

Charles Lawson, Michelle Rourke and Fran Humphries

Keywords: genetic resources; benefit sharing; information; equity and fairness; CBD; dematerialization

The global movement and use of genetic resources remain vital to sustaining humankind. An enclosure or re-appropriation of these resources requiring regulated access and benefit sharing is evolving under the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity and related instruments. The potential to replace the physical materials with information about those materials, including genetic sequence data, has fractured the carefully negotiated benefit sharing regulation complex. This article re-engages with this original grand bargain of access in exchange for benefit sharing, and the imperatives of transferring financial resources and technology from the technologically advanced countries of the North to the biodiversity-rich countries of the South. Public access database terms and conditions (as opposed to public domain) and collecting societies are some of the elegant legal solutions and mechanisms to address concerns about dematerialization under the current contractual approach to benefit sharing. This article concludes, however, that the tension between enclosure of information as the genetic resource and legal information sharing requirements needs more nuanced forms of benefit sharing such as taxes or levies. This is necessary to facilitate movement of not only the physical materials but also information in the access and benefit sharing bargain.

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